By Kent Fillinger
Suppose you could describe most emerging megachurches by combining their characteristics into a description of just one congregation. The story you’d tell would likely look something like the composite picture presented here.
Things were going well at CreekView Christian Church. Like many large-size churches (those with an average worship attendance of 500 to 999) it had grown large enough to feel successful but remained small enough for the minister to feel comfortable. He could know most in the congregation, at least by face, if not by name. The church’s building was attractive. The church staff had grown with the church’s needs.
Bill Smith had just come to CreekView after 10 years as student minister at a growing megachurch. He was convinced that this large church in an older residential area of Indianapolis had potential to grow beyond 600 in attendance. He knew some ministers at churches of this size who had settled into the comfort of serving such a large church. They concentrated more on discipling instead of pushing for ongoing evangelism. But this wasn’t for Bill. His ministry experience in the megachurch taught him quite a bit about the steps and sacrifices needed to create an environment for continued growth. He hoped to transfer those learning experiences into his new role at CreekView.
A church planting association had started CreekView in 1949. It cycled through several ministers during its first two decades, with limited success, but experienced a season of growth during the consistent, 30-year ministry of the senior minister who preceded Bill. Now, at age 37, Bill came with vision and excitement that provided a contagious fresh wind.
Creating a New Culture
Bill worked to create a new culture in the church, initially focusing his attention on the existing staff, which had grown accustomed to a slower pace. He challenged them to evaluate and improve their ministry areas for greater effectiveness and impact. A couple of longtime staff members didn’t appreciate all of the changes and challenges, or Bill’s new vision for the church.
He recognized the contribution these staff members had made through the years, and tried to work with them and coach them. At the same time he tried to help them understand that more was expected of them if they were to remain on the team. Fortunately for Bill, the elders supported these philosophical shifts. Ultimately, a couple members of the staff realized it was best for them to find new ministries.
The ripple effect in the congregation was felt on a few fronts. Some people questioned Bill’s leadership style and blamed him for the departure of these beloved staff members. Again, the elders remained supportive and communicated the need for unity.
Despite these challenges, CreekView was gaining momentum, many rallied around the vision, and attendance grew for the first time in years. The influx of new people generated excitement in the church. Additionally, Bill hired some new staff members who complemented his strengths and captured the vision for growth.
After four years, CreekView was flirting with 1,000 in attendance on a regular basis, and its aging facilities were being stretched. It became a challenge to find a parking space or a seat in the worship center, and the children’s ministry areas were maxed out.
Bill and the elders started talking about the possibility of relocating. The surrounding community had been shifting demographically, and most of the church’s growth was coming from the newer suburbs just outside of Indianapolis. But making such a move would be an emotional leap for the nucleus of the church that had spent so many years at CreekView. After many discussions and much prayer, the congregation voted to relocate, and Bill and a select team began searching for a suitable new location.
Continuing to Grow
By the spring of 2003, the church purchased a prime piece of land in a newer suburb seven miles away. The church saw some modest growth as people were energized by the relocation plans. Over the next few years, the church completed construction of its new facility, sold its existing facility to a small, ethnic congregation, and relocated to its new campus. CreekView held its first service in the new facility on October 10, 2005.
Since relocating, CreekView has continued to grow and the church averaged 1,321 in attendance last year. CreekView had more than 2,200 in attendance for Easter and more than 1,600 for its Christmas Eve services. Overall, CreekView grew 5.4 percent last year and saw 91 baptisms. Based on its general fund giving, the church spent $24,617 for each of those baptisms.
Bill Smith, now 50, views CreekView’s momentum as strong and stable, and feels like both he and the church have more potential. Bill meets twice a month for encouragement and idea sharing with a group of senior ministers from Christian churches across central Indiana. He says this group serves as a great resource as he envisions the future for CreekView.
CreekView offers three Sunday morning worship services, all with the same style of worship. The worship center at the church seats about 850. CreekView uses a combination of classes and groups to connect and disciple its congregation.
The church has managed to survive the recession fairly well. Last year, the church received $2.2 million, and giving exceeded its overall budget. CreekView increased its ministry spending last year but maintained the existing level of staff. The church dedicated 46 percent of its budget to staff in 2011. While the church has reduced its debt load over the last few years, its current debt of $4.4 million remains a serious financial challenge and a constraint for future growth.
CreekView continues to emphasize outreach by investing 13 percent of its budget on ministry outside its walls in 2011. An outreach event called “Go Love Indy” was a big success, as members were mobilized to serve and meet needs throughout the city. The church also responded last spring after the tornadoes hit Joplin, Missouri, sending several truckloads of relief supplies.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.